My dad was my hero. He was only twelve years old when he left Germany in 1939 on the kindertransport to England and was the only member of his family to survive. When he was old enough, he joined the British Army Intelligence Corp and was sent into Europe to help catch escaped Nazis. He received the France and Germany Star and was commended for his work. Unfortunately he died when I was twelve and he was only thirty nine. I’m so proud of his service, and all the charity work he did during his life. He was Chairman of both the local British Legion and AJEX, the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen, and ran annual events for those who were injured during the First and Second World Wars.
My maternal grandmother, Sybill, was born in Dublin in 1897 to parents who were expelled from the Ukraine in the pograms. Well I say 1897, but she never actually knew the exact date as the registrar of births and deaths only came to each village once or maybe twice a year and everyone was given the same birth date. I always remember how she used to read tea-leaves and knew about things before they happened. I have inherited her gift to some extent, though not with tea leaves, and I am also a Reiki master. That’s probably what inspired me to give my protagonist, Cydney Granger, the gift of speaking to spirit.
I can tap dance. I started dance classes when I was only three but stopped when I was sixteen to focus on my A level studies. I love music and dance to this day and my daughter, Rosanna, is a professional performer currently appearing in the UK tour of Grease. I am an avid theatre goer and I must have instilled in her my absolute addiction to musical theatre. I am a very frustrated performer though. Unfortunately I can’t sing and that is the one talent I wish I had, as do my husband and daughter. However, I do go to Ceroc and Jive evenings and can normally pick up most dances very quickly.
I only started writing five years ago. It was something I always wanted to do and came to the conclusion that it was a regret I would always have if I didn’t start. Now writing is my absolute passion. I am still working in my corporate business so my time to sit at the computer is limited to weekends, evenings and going to my house in Spain which I find both peaceful and inspiring as it has the most amazing views of the mountains. One day, I would like to do this full-time.
I read all the classics by the age of 10. My dad used to take me the library every week and I came away with at least four books which I would read and then discuss with him. He instilled in me a love of literature and languages and I was brought up speaking French which my dad learned in the army; never German. I still read all the time and my favourite authors are John Grisham and Wilbur Smith, as well as Philippa Gregory for her historical novels.
I am not particularly artistic in the sense that I have never been able to draw or paint but I love nothing better than a house project and interior designing. It gives me a sense of accomplishment especially when it all comes together, and then I look for the next project. I live in the Buckinghamshire countryside with my husband and all our dogs. Our house was originally built in the late 1800’s but now it is fully modernised, whilst retaining that country look which is comfortable and a true home. I have always been able to sew and knit, taught by my mum who was a very talented seamstress and window dresser in the West End of London, working for Selfridges and Marks & Spencer, creating their displays.
I have always been very sporty, and I still play tennis, although haven’t for the last six months as I fell over whilst playing and broke my left wrist which has taken time to heal. Thankfully it didn’t impede my writing, although using a computer was quite difficult with a sling. That slowed me down quite a bit and as I am not a very patient person, I probably cheated a bit when I should have stopped and rested more. I think the trouble is that I find sitting down and not keeping active extremely difficult, and always have done.
I love my business and work with a passion. I have always been entrepreneurial and I like the idea of building things from initial ideas and seeing them through. That is all part of learning and the basis of a good business person is to know when to quit when things are not working out. A couple of years ago I decided to use my knowledge to help others and I became a mentor for MBA students at the University of Westminster, where I studied. I also taught business for a year to A level students at a local school and that was one of the toughest things I have ever done.
I love nothing better than having the kitchen to myself and cooking, though I am useless at baking as I can never get my cakes to rise; obviously I am doing something wrong which irks me as I am a perfectionist but have been forced to give up. Our house is ideal for entertaining and we have a wide circle of friends and I have to admit I do create rather lovely meals and deserts on the basis that nobody goes away hungry.
My family are the most important thing to me. I have a younger sister and two brothers and many nieces and nephews. I am still very close to my first husband and his family, and now married again for the last five years, I have even more family, and we all get on which I know is unusual. I put this down to having been brought up in a loving and close Jewish family where everybody valued what our predecessors had lost and we believed in tradition. Obviously my siblings and I lost our dad when we were so young but that probably brought us closer together and we speak on the phone most days.
Karen Millie-James is the author of Where In The Dark, out now from King of the Road Publishing.